The exhibition is primarily a story about Kraków and its inhabitants, both Polish and Jewish, during World War Two. It is also a story about Nazi Germans – the occupiers who arrived here on 6 September 1939, brutally disrupting Kraków’s centuries-long history of Polish-Jewish relations. The great history of World War Two intersects here with everyday life, and the personal dramas of individual people overlap with the tragedy which affected the whole world.
The wartime history of Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik – DEF – and its owner Oskar Schindler was brought into the limelight in 1993 by Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. Ever since that time, tourists from all over the world have been coming to Lipowa Street to visit the place where Schindler saved the lives of over a thousand people. The character of Oskar Schindler and the life stories of the Kraków Jews he saved are presented in the exhibition as part of the city’s complex wartime history. Oskar Schindler’s heroic attitude is presented in close-up in his former office – luckily, the historic room located in the factory’s administrative building has been preserved intact throughout the years. The dominant feature here is the symbolic “Survivors’ Ark” made of thousands of enamelled pots, similar to those manufactured by Schindler’s employees during the war.
The exhibition scenario was prepared by a team of Kraków-based specialists (Katarzyna Zimmerer, Grzegorz Jeżowski, Edyta Gawron and Barbara Zbroja) headed by the curator of the exhibition Monika Bednarek. The narrative created by that team combines documentary photographs, eyewitness accounts, film documentaries and multimedia presentations. All of these elements are put together to make a vivid, chronological vision of the city’s history. The exhibition presents the tragedy of the war both in the individual, and in the collective dimension, but it also portrays everyday life in the Nazi-occupied Kraków as it is immortalized in ordinary objects, photographs, newspapers, personal and official documents.
The new exhibition has been created with the use of various means that go beyond the framework of traditional museum exhibitions. The designers and creators of its artistic layout – stage designer Michał Urban and theatre director Łukasz Czuj – have given it the character of a theatrical, or cinematic narrative. The theatrical reconstructions of Kraków’s historical city space are juxtaposed with sculptural installations metaphorically embracing the city’s wartime history. The spectator voyeuristically wanders through the city: walking down the cobbled streets, s/he pops in at a photographer’s shop, peeps into an authentic stereoscope which used to belong to a pre-war studio on Szczepańska St, boards a tram to watch a documentary portraying the everyday life of the city which is screened on the tram’s windows, walks through the narrow, labyrinthine streets of the Ghetto to visit a typical Jewish apartment, and then moves to the Płaszów camp, together with the Ghetto residents. Looking though the windows of a hairdresser’s salon s/he watches the Polish underground’s attempt on the life of Wilhelm Koppe. A moment later, looking though the window of a gloomy basement, s/he witnesses a street round-up, and finally, trapped in the fortified city, s/he waits for the Red Army to arrive.
The five key points in the city’s history are marked by the "memory machines" – the stampers which every visitor can use to obtain a commemorative stamp associated with the given historical event. By using the "memory machines" visitors can produce their own, tangible “time documents” which they can take home with them.
The symbolic summary of the exhibition is the "Hall of Choices" – a sculptural installation symbolizing the various ethical dilemmas and attitudes one could encounter during the war.
The 45 exhibition rooms have been used to present Kraków’s history in an almost tangible way, enabling visitors to get a personal experience of the past, and to feel the dramatic emotions shared by the city’s wartime residents. Extensive multimedia solutions (including 30 interactive multimedia kiosks with touchscreens, 70 soundtracks, and 15 video projectors) create an attractive, contemporary, and visitor-oriented museum environment.
The motto of this permanent exhibition and of the entire new branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków is “the factory of memory”. The space of remembrance created at the former Enamel Factory offers the visitors an opportunity to confront the past in a personal way.
Honorary patronage of the exhibition: Ambassador of Israel to Poland Mr. Zvi Rav-Ner, Ambassador of Germany to Poland Mr. Michael H. Gerdts, Consul General of the United States to Poland Mr. Allen Greenberg and Minister of Culture and National Heritage Mr. Bogdan Zdrojewski.